Monthly Archives: September 2004

Case Closed! Closed?

My mom sent a clipping from the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, the island’s weekly news source (the site seems not to be searchable, and Google doesn’t turn up the story online, so I can’t link to it).

The headline reads, “Atheneum has no problem with outdoor wireless use,” and the story begins, “Rumors notwithstanding, the Nantucket Atheneum’s wireless Internet signal is welcome to those who come within the signal’s 300-foot radius.” It goes on:

“We have no objection to people tapping into our signal,” said Frank Jewell, the library’s interim director.
Questions arose about the library’s stance on the issue after the Nantucket police a month ago intercepted [!] a man tapping on his laptop while leaning against the rear of the Atheneum during the day.

Deputy Police Chief Charles Gibson said he noticed the man while driving up Oak Street behind the Atheneum. Gibson asked a nearby summer police officer to check into what the man was doing. He said he would have done the same if he’d seen someone with a laptop tapping at the rear of a business or residence.

The summer officer told the man to “don’t be hanging around back here.”

“It did look a little suspicious,” Gibson said.

From there, word began to spread that the police considered outdoor users of the signal to be engaged in a theft of services.

Jewell, however, said the service is free to all comers.

The story goes on to explain that the Atheneum restricts usage within the library (to the second floor, to permit more space for reading print books on the first floor), and that there have been some acts of vandalism in the past year (though not electronic vandalism, just old-fashioned hooliganism).

The Story

After I first read the story, I was amused, and put it aside to blog here. In transcribing the story for this entry, though, I’m struck by the odd inconcinnity of this account with my own experience. The Deputy Chief’s story sounds very little like what happened to me.

  • The mysterious “tapper” was leaning against the rear of the Atheneum; I was sitting on a public bench beside the Atheneum.
  • The newspaper story says that this incident gave rise to a “rumor” that “the police considered outdoor users. . . to be engaged in a theft of services,” but in fact that’s exactly what the officer who rousted me told me.
  • The story says that this took place “a month ago,” but if the article was published last week (when the weekly paper would have had to go to press in order for it to get to my mom, who then clipped it and mailed it to me), the incident couldn’t have taken place longer ago than two weeks, give or take a day.

Now, it could be that the police had chased away some other laptop-user two weeks before my surprising run-in with the constabulary, and that word just hadn’t gotten around to the officer who chased me off. Oddly, though, the officer who asked me not to hang around the Atheneum with my laptop open himself used the specific charge of “theft of signal,” amplified with the explanation that the Secret Service had instructed the local police on this point, when this was the precise allegation that the newspaper identifies as a misguided rumor. Or it could be that the story is indeed about me, and that the reporter, or police spokesperson, muddled the dates a little and was confused about exactly where I was sitting — while explicitly disavowing the felony warning that the officer made against me.

Whatever — the end of the story, assuming this is actually the end, turns out to be just as weird as the beginning. At least the librarians come out as heroes of free use!